Hashi’s Halal Market on Killingsworth and Vancouver in Portland was not the great resource I was hoping it would be, but I did find what I was looking for. I’ve long since run out of dates from Saudi Arabia, even after stuffing my luggage full. Hashi’s little shop only had a couple of kinds of dates–not the choice from among dozens of varieties I was hoping for. Hashi himself didn’t seem to be on site; just a woman selling incense burners and perfume behind the counter of the dingy shop. I left with a box of medjool dates that turned out to be from Algeria.
After oil, dates are Saudi Arabia’s most important export. Until I saw for myself, I had no idea were so many varieties, sizes shapes and colors. Dates can be classified from sticky-soft to semi-soft to dry. They are very nutritious and a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium (more than bananas!), iron and other minerals. They are important culturally too, and the daily fast during Ramadan is typically broken by eating dates.
During the time we were in Saudi Arabia, I nearly ate my weight in dates. They make a great desert just as they are, especially when you serve several varieties, and they’re especially good stuffed with nuts. Of course they’re wonderful covered in chocolate.
The gooey fruit filling in this recipe amplifies the chocolate, making these seem a lot more decadent than they are. I’m positive they’re quite healthy. Give these a try, and you’ll find yet another reason to love dates.
Chocolate Date Bars
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Butter an 8 x 8 inch pan.
Combine chopped dates and water in a small saucepan and simmer until the dates have cooked to an applesauce-like consistency. Depending on your dates, this could take 30 min or so. Don’t stop cooking dates until they are reduced to a saucy mix; you don’t want these at all watery. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add vanilla.
While the dates are cooking, combine the dry ingredients except chocolate chips. Add butter to dry ingredients and use your fingers to blend everything together. Spread half the oat mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan and press into place. Spread cooked dates evenly over the oat base. Distribute the chocolate chips over the dates then sprinkle the rest of the oat mixture over everything and press the topping smooth with your hands. Bake for 40 minutes or until slightly browned. Slice these shortly after they come out of the oven. They are good hot if you can’t wait!